Essentially, the goal is to create a hybrid immune system -- part donor, part recipient -- in the bone marrow of the recipient. The marrow then creates cells in the immune system.
Of eight patients, five have not required any medications to suppress their immune systems, Ildstad said. Two of the patients take the medications at a low dose; one patient experienced complications related to blood poisoning and a blood clot in an artery to the kidneys.
The extra cost per patient beyond the expense of the transplant is about $50,000, Ildstad said. The next step is to determine whether the procedure would work for other kinds of transplants, she said.
Ildstad has a financial interest in Regenerex LLC, a company that participated in the study.
Dr. Tatsuo Kawai, a transplant specialist and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, said the findings are a "big deal." However, the safety of the procedure still needs to be confirmed, and it remains "highly risky" for the moment, said Kawai, who co-wrote a commentary accompanying the study.
In the commentary, Kawai noted some study weaknesses. Beside its small size, the study lacked a control group of patients who did not receive the new procedure, to allow comparisons. Also, he wrote that it might be difficult for other researchers to validate the findings, as the study doesn't fully disclose manufacturing details of the new process.
For more about organ transplants, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Suzanne T. Ildstad, director, Institute for Cellular Therapeutics, University of Louisville, Kentucky; Tatsuo Kawai, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston; March 7, 2012, Science Translational Medicine
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